Dear Naysayers, Thank You!

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I was posed an interesting question as part of a larger group today about veiled criticism, naysayers, and creating change.  In summary, the question was about the danger of people who can derail progress and positive change through veiled criticism and intentions.

The more I thought about it, the greater appreciation I have for the Naysayers.  Those people who have an initial reaction of “No Way!” While that might seem counterintuitive to developing positive change and progress, I believe it is a crucial part of the process.

Those who hide their disagreement, that mask their true misgivings in a situation do all of us a disservice.  Those that openly disagree, that criticize, or are overtly contrary by contrast, have a way of bringing out the best in our ideas if we so choose. By repeatedly saying no, they force us to refine our idea and continue to revisit, revise, and renew our plans for positive change.

It is these people that many might think of as “difficult” or “problem causing” that force us to become better.  As they continue to say “no”, we have several choices.  First we could ignore their “no” and move forward, but then what have learned about our plan?  We could engage in their dissent but take it personally, or worse, allow their contrarian attitude to dissolve our positive energy and ideas.  Neither of those are acceptable either.  The only positive way forward is to engage in the dissent and use those arguments to build a better, more powerful positive change.  This is ultimately the most successful way to move forward.

But, what about the hidden threats, the people who say nothing to the contrary but also neglect action for positive change?

They are much more difficult, and dangerous for making positive changes in many ways.  They contribute nothing to the conversation that would lead to growth.  They also do nothing to better the situation by their actions, often times undermining the changes.

So in the end, I thank the naysayers, the dissenters, the “difficult ones” for being exactly that.  It may seem more frustrating at first, but no matter what their motive, you can use their contradiction to the benefit of everyone around you.

Caution, Extreme Conditions Ahead

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Everywhere I look, in every conversation I have ever had, people  speak in extremes.

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Perhaps that is an overstatement.  But, the reality is that extreme points of view are fairly common in education.  From topics as varied as discipline, dress code, and homework there are advocates willing to plant their flag upon a predetermined hill and  stake their claim.  They will fight off all attackers from their predetermined claims, even logic and reason.

While we can often see the most overt examples of this extremism in education, their ideas often push us in a desired direction.  We may never truly venture into their outlandish territory, the push from one extreme to the next exists.

Recently I was talking with a educator friend.  He has strong beliefs about what kids should be doing, but an open mind. Like most of us, he has been pushed by the extreme that lies furthest from his beliefs to question his practice.  I think this is a positive outcome derived from the brink.  When he asked me if all of the things he had been doing were really what is best for kids, it reminded me of the pendulum effect in education.

At any moment education swings from one direction to the next.  Despite my belief that we are starting to slowly change the clock in education all together, the effect is still present.  My response to him was simply this:

If you believe what you are doing is best for kids, then by all means yes. Remember that there will be times that people push from one extreme to the next.  No matter what, kids need to be exposed to the full range of working educational knowledge.  By having teachers that vary in their place along the path between extremes, kids are exposed to, and more likely to find specific teachers and styles that work for them.

Ultimately I recognize the value the extremist serves.  They push us to develop our own ideas, strengthen our positions towards making things better for kids, and become better at what we do.  Learning and growing from the ways they challenge us is valuable, however frustrating it may be.  So, while you may see the extreme views in the educational world as outrageous, don’t be afraid to test their resolve.  You will learn more about where your own weaknesses lie, and you can start using that to improve.  Just be cautious not to plant your own flag and forget that the real world, especially in education (with kids) is rarely determined in absolutes.